It seems as though polite debate over how to best control growth in Hampstead may no longer be possible. At the most recent meeting of the town's Planning and Zoning Commission, an obviously frustrated member of the commission lost control and inappropriately berated a town resident for criticizing the public body. The incident was quite ugly and some members of the audience feared that a fistfight would break out.
At the root of the controversy is how to ensure that Hampstead's explosive growth doesn't destroy the town's quality of life. A number of residents fear that further subdivision approvals will result in overcrowded schools, congested roads and depletion of the town's water supply.
A number of Hampstead officials consider these fears to be overblown. But whether they are legitimate is not the question. The fact that some town residents have grave concerns means that public discussion is needed.
The reason for the unfortunate outburst at the planning meeting can be traced to the adamant refusal of the commission chairman last summer to place on the agenda the council's request for a 90-day building moratorium. The arbitrary and capricious actions of Art Moler, who serves as a town councilman and planning commissioner chairman, fueled suspicions that the municipal government only heeds developers' wishes and ignores those of residents. It should not surprise anyone that some Hampstead residents, when finally given a chance to express themselves, vented their frustrations and became abusive.
Commission member William Drummond's explosive harangue was uncalled for. It diminished him and the government he serves. He may not have liked what was said about the commission, but citizens have every right to speak their minds no matter how ill-informed their comments. The commission isn't obligated to follow those comments, only to listen to them.
The issue of growth is not going away in Hampstead or any other Carroll municipality. The issue may be the hottest one of this election season. It needs to be discussed openly and frankly. People have to understand what powers the towns have to control development and what powers they lack. Trying to stifle this public debate will only exacerbate the existing anger and hostility.